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Fredericksburg Hotels

Fredericksburg Texas

Blending German Colonization
with Modern Tourism

by Sandy Fiedler

Fredericksburg Texas
Gillespie County

US-290 and Hwy 16
80 miles West of Austin

Book Hotel Here › Fredericksburg Hotels

Fredericksburg's craftsman
"Bones" demonstrating the craft of covering chair bottoms with fresh cowhide. Pioneer Museum in downtown Frederickburg
Founder's Day Festival held every May

Photo courtesy Sandy Fiedler, 2000

What does the assassination of JFK have to do with the development of tourism in Fredericksburg, Texas? A lot. But first, how did Fredericksburg come to be in the first place?

In 1846 John O. Meusebach, Commissioner-General of the Society for the Protection of German Immigrants in Texas, led his group of 120 into the area between the banks of the Llano and Colorado Rivers. Naming the colony for Prince Frederick of Prussia, Meusebach oversaw the division of land. Ten acres of farmland and a town lot 100' by 200' went to each married man, and ten acres to each single man 17 years or older.

It was the best of times and the worst of times, to borrow a phrase-wonderful because it was a time of new beginnings, and terrifying because there was no backup plan in case of failure. No buildings, bridges, or streets were there to reveal the shape of a man's hand at work. No one sold them a beam, board, or stone.

Every structure, from the humblest cabin to the first church, they had to make themselves out of the raw land.

Vereins Kirche or society's church
Replica of "Vereins Kirche" or "Society's Church"
Photo courtesy Sandy Fiedler

In the colony were skilled craftsmen, builders, merchants, farmers, and professionals representing all classes of society, serving to build a community based on integrity, industriousness, and faith in God. In 1847 construction began on "society's church," the Vereins Kirche.

It was a small octagonal building, which served as a church for all denominations and as a schoolhouse, its bell heralding important events. Although the original building eventually fell into disuse and was razed, a replica erected in 1935 now stands in the middle of the Marktplatz on Main Street.

Fredericksburg Sunday House
"Sunday House" on the grounds of Pioneer Museum complex
Photo courtesy of Sandy Fiedler

Feelings of loneliness were eased on weekends when farmers brought families into town. They stayed with relatives and friends. About 1897 a new trend began to change the appearance of the town. Because of a rumor that town folks were tired of their country cousins' spending every weekend with them, one man decided to build his family a "Sunday house". Before long, dozens of one-and two-room houses sprang up, clustered near the churches because attending church was so important. The farmers and ranchers came to town on Saturdays to trade their products with local merchants and townspeople, attend church on Sunday, and return home later that day.

For about fifty years Sunday houses played an important role in the life of the town. Eventually, however, good roads and automobiles erased the necessity for a separate place in town. Of the more than 100 Sunday houses built, most remain intact, still used as homes or shop
Today Main Street shows off dozens of marvelous shops for collectibles, antiques, crafts, etc. There are German restaurants, beer gartens, and bakeries (with shortbread, baked meringue, kolaches). The pleasing scents of candles fill the nostrils. Unobtrusive doorways lead to mysterious courtyards. Many of the ubiquitous historical markers are noticeable only if you are on foot in this understated, rich historical district. Churches stand all over the town like watchtowers of strength.
Admiral Nimitz Museum Fredericksburg Texas

Admiral Nimitz State Historic Site - National Museum of the Pacific War
P O Box 777
Fredericksburg TX 78624
Photo courtesy Sandy Fiedler

On Main Street is the Admiral Chester Nimitz Museum and Historical Center. Fredericksburg is proud to be the birthplace of Nimitz, Fleet Admiral of the Pacific Forces in World War II. This museum is part of the National Museum of the Pacific War with the new George Bush Gallery.

cabin in Pioneer Museum Fredericksburg Texas
Authentic cabin relocated to Pioneer Museum Complex
Photo courtesy Sandy Fiedler

"There are many bed and breakfast establishments and motels — there are no bad places to stay in Fredericksburg," voiced one resident. "Everything is clean and safe."

How did Fredericksburg become the tourist haven it is today? A talk with Mark Williams of the Pioneer Museum gives insight. "Fredericksburg's life blood is tourism, but it wasn't planned that way."

He explained that in the early 1930s, Albert Keidel, a descendent of immigrants, studied architecture. He noticed how the wealthy Dupont family had invested big money in the restoration of the colonial town of Williamsburg, Virginia. He tried to interest Fredericksburg citizens in preserving the treasures they took for granted. The community rejected his prodding. Eventually, however, he created the well-known "homestead style" of architecture based on a variety of locally used styles. His influence along with that of another man, Tyrus Cox, indirectly caused the restoration and appreciation of the local architecture whose examples were beginning to decay.

"Then a morbid thing happened that helped put Fredericksburg on the map," related Mark intriguingly. "It was the JFK assassination."

Mark explained that the home of the new president, Lyndon B. Johnson, was just a few miles east. There was only one place nearby for the press to stay-Fredericksburg. After covering the news on the Johnson Ranch, reporters did the natural thing: they found human interest stories in Fredericksburg and the German culture. This exposure caused citizens to speed up restoration in the early 1970s. Money came in from Houston, Dallas, and Fort Worth, causing property values of old homes to soar.

"Fredericksburg is slowly being kicked into the twenty-first century," Mark observed. "As late as 1979, it was still more nineteenth century. Because of the influx of people and money from all over the U.S., the closed, tightly knit culture is being overwhelmed. There still is much genuine flavor, but it is becoming commercialized."

He noted that presently there are about two or three thousand descendants of the first immigrants.

"Technology is pushing the future on them now," Mark added. "Monday through Thursday it is a sleepy town, but Friday through Sunday, traffic is bumper to bumper."

The April 1999 issue of National Geographic carries an article titled, "Texas Hill Country." Author John Graves writes about the old German settlements. "Boerne, Comfort, even Fredericksburg the jewel-all are now ringed by standard American clutter and filled with tourist shops, serenity having dwindled away."

But you can regain a sense of what it used to be if you start with a tour of the Pioneer Museum Complex on Main Street in Fredericksburg.

A Founders' Day Festival is held there every May.

Gillespie County Courthouse
Enchanted Rock State Natural Area

On Big Sandy Creek, near Gillespie and Llano County lines.
18 miles North of Fredericksburg on Ranch Road 965
16710 Ranch Rd 965
Fredericksburg TX 78624

[ See A Couch Potato's Guide to Climbing Enchanted
by Michael Barr ]

Tourist information

  • Pioneer Museum Complex
    309 W. Main St. Fredericksburg, TX 78624
    Mon - Sat 10-5 Sun 1-5 Closed major holidays
    Website: pioneermuseum.com

  • Gillespie County Historical Society

    Sandy Fiedler
    October, 2000

  • See
    Fredericksburg, Texas

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